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Medieval Sourcebook:
Marsiligio of Padua:
Conclusions from Defensor Pacis, 1324

[Thatcher Introduction] Defensor Pacis is a treatise on politics written by Marsilius or Marsiglio, a canon of the church of Padua, in 1324. His authority is the Politics of Aristotle, which Marsilius knew from a Latin summary current in the Middle Age. From this as a basis he constructs a political theory and tests the existing institutions by it. The work is divided into three parts; the first two form a diffuse essay, and the last is a summary of his arguments in the form of forty-two conclusiones, which are translated here, because they give in a concise form the essential points of his theory. As regards the political situation of his own time, the general tendency of the treatise is imperial and anti-papal; it was used by Ludwig IV [the Bavarian] .in his conflict with the Avignon popes. Hence it was regarded by -papal party as unorthodox and heretical. in the bull of John XXII, 1327, five statements were selected and condemned as heresies no. His views n the origin and nature of the state are Aristotelian: the state is a perfected community existing for the good of the people; the supreme power resides in the body of the citizens, who make the laws, and choose the form of government, etc. The prince rules by the authority of the whole body of citizens. To this body Marsilius gives the name legislator. The elective monarchy is the form of government preferred by Marsilius, whose ideal state thus corresponds in theory with the holy Roman empire. His views on the relation of the state and the church are very different from the views common in the Middle Age. The supreme institution is the state which has established the priesthood or the church to look after the spiritual welfare of its citizens. Hence the state has the right to control the church, but the church has not the corresponding right to control the state. The treatment of the church in itself is also interesting. Marsilius attacks the Petrine theory and the whole papal structure. All bishops are equal in religious authority, deriving their power immediately from Christ. If one priest or bishop is placed over another it is for the purpose of organization, and the authority of the superior is derived from the state. He also asserts that within the church the supreme authority is not the pope, but the general council of Christians.



  1. The one divine canonical Scripture, the conclusions that necessarily follow from it, and the interpretation placed upon it by the common consent of Christians, are true, and belief in them is necessary to the salvation of those to whom they are made known.
  2. The general council of Christians or its majority alone has the authority to define doubtful passages of the divine law, and to determine those that are to be regarded as articles of the Christian faith, belief in which is essential to salvation; and no partial council or single person of any position has the authority to decide these questions.
  3. The gospels teach that no temporal punishment or penalty should be used to compel observance of divine commandments.
  4. It is necessary to salvation to obey the commandments of the new divine law [the New Testament] and the conclusions that follow necessarily from it and the precepts of reason; but it is not necessary to salvation to obey all the commandments of the ancient law [the Old Testament].
  5. No mortal has the right to dispense with the commands or prohibitions of the new divine law; but the general council and the Christian "legislator" I alone have the right prohibit things which are permitted by the new law, under penalties in this world or the next, and no partial council or single person of any position has that right.
    [Note: In regard to the "legislator," Marsilius cites Aristotle as follows: 'The legislator or the effective cause of the law is the people, the whole body of the citizens, or the majority of that body, expressing its will and choice in a general meeting of the citizens, and commanding or deciding that certain things shall be done or left undone, under threat of temporal penalty or punishment."]
  6. The whole body of citizens or its majority alone is the human "legislator."
  7. Decretals and decrees of the bishop of Rome, or of any other bishops or body of bishops, have no power to coerce anyone by secular penalties or punishments, except by the authorization of the human "legislator."
  8. The "legislator" alone or the one who rules by its authority has the power to dispense with human laws.
  9. The elective principality or other office derives its authority from the election of the body having the right to elect, and not from the confirmation or approval of any other power.
  10. The election of any prince or other official, especially ,,one who has the coercive power is determined solely by the ,,expressed will of the "legislator." [Note: "Coercive" or "coactive" power is the power, residing in the ruler or the officials of the state and derived from the "legislator," to compel observance of the laws or decrees of the state by force or threat of penalty. A coercive judgment is a judgment given by an official who has the power to enforce his decisions. Marsilius maintains that coercive power and coercive judgments are the prerogatives of the state and cannot be exercised by the church.]
  11. There can be only one supreme ruling power in a state or kingdom.
  12. The number and the qualifications of persons who hold state offices and all civil matters are to be determined solely by the Christian ruler according to the law or approved custom [of the state].
  13. No prince, still more, no partial council or single person of any position, has full authority and control over other persons, laymen or clergy, without the authorization of the "legislator.
  14. No bishop or priest has coercive authority or jurisdiction over any layman or clergyman, even if he is a heretic.
  15. The prince who rules by the authority of the "legislator" has jurisdiction over the persons and possessions of every single mortal of every station, whether lay or clerical, and over every body of laymen or clergy.
  16. No bishop or priest or body of bishops or priests has the authority to excommunicate anyone or to interdict the performance of divine services, without the authorization of the "legislator."
  17. All bishops derive their authority in equal measure immediately from Christ, and it cannot be proved from the. divine law that one bishop should be over or under another, in temporal or spiritual matters.
  18. The other bishops, singly or in a body, have the same right by divine authority to excommunicate or otherwise exercise authority over the bishop of Rome, having obtained the consent of the "legislator," as the bishop of Rome has to excommunicate or control them.
  19. No mortal has the authority to permit marriages that are prohibited by the divine law, especially by the New Testament. The right to permit marriages which are prohibited by human law belongs solely to the "legislator" or to the one who rules by its authority.
  20. The right to legitimatize children born of illegitimate union so that they may receive inheritances, or other civil or ecclesiastical offices or benefits, belongs solely to the "legislator."
  21. The "legislator" alone has the right to promote to ecclesiastical orders, and to judge of the qualifications of persons for these offices, by a coercive decision, and no priest or bishop has the right to promote anyone without its authority.
  22. The prince who rules by the authority of the laws of Christians, has the right to determine the number of churches and temples, and the number of priests, deacons, and other clergy who shall serve in them.
  23. "Separable" ecclesiastical offices may be conferred or taken away only by the authority of the "legislator"; the same e is true of ecclesiastical benefices and other property devoted to pious purposes.
    [Note: "Separable" offices of the clergy, according to Marsilius, are those functions commonly exercised by the clergy, which are not essentially bound up with their spiritual character. The terms essential and non-essential are used as synonymous respectively with inseparable and separable. The essential or inseparable powers of the clergy are "the power to bless the bread and wine, and turn them Into the blamed body and blood of Christ, to administer the other sacraments of the church, and to bind and to loose men from their sins." Non-essential or separable functions are the government or control of one priest over others (i.e., the offices of bishop, arch. bishop, etc.), the administration of the sacraments, etc., in a certain place and to a certain people, and the administration of temporal possessions of the church. In respect to their separable functions the clergy are under the control of the state.]
  24. No bishop or body of bishops has the right to establish notaries or other civil officials.
  25. No bishop or body of bishops may give permission to teach or practice in any profession or occupation, but this right belongs to the Christian "legislator" or to the one who rules by its authority.
  26. In ecclesiastical offices and benefices those who have received consecration as deacons or priests, or have been otherwise irrevocably dedicated to God, should be preferred those who have not been thus consecrated.
  27. The human "legislator" has the right to use ecclesiastical temporalities for the common public good and defence after the needs of the priests and clergy, the expenses of divine worship, and the necessities of the poor have been satisfied.
  28. All properties established for pious purposes or for works of mercy, such as those that are left by will for the making of a crusade, the redeeming of captives, or the support of the poor, and similar purposes, may be disposed of by the prince alone according to the decision of the "legislator" and the purpose of the testator or giver.
  29. The Christian "legislator" alone has the right to forbid or permit the establishment of religious orders or houses.
  30. The prince alone, acting in accordance with the laws of the "legislator," has the authority to condemn heretics, delinquents, and all others who should endure temporal punishment, to inflict bodily punishment upon them, and to exact fines from them.
  31. No subject who is bound to another by a legal oath may be released from his obligation by any bishop or priest, unless the "legislator" has decided by a coercive decision that there is just cause for it-
  32. The general council of all Christians alone has the authority to create a metropolitan bishop or church, and to reduce him or it from that position.
  33. The Christian "legislator" or the one who rules by its authority over Christian states, alone has the right to convoke either a general or local council of priests, bishops, and other Christians, by coercive power; and no man may be compelled by threats of temporal or spiritual punishment to obey the decrees of a council convoked in any other way.
  34. The general council of Christians or the Christian "legislator" alone has the authority to ordain fasts and other prohibitions of the use of food; the council or "legislator" alone may prohibit the practice of mechanical arts or teaching which divine law permits to be practiced on any day, and the "legislator" or the one who rules by its authority alone may constrain men to obey the prohibition by temporal penalties.
  35. The general council of Christians alone has the authority to canonize anyone or to order anyone to be adored as a saint.
  36. The general council of Christians alone has the authority to forbid the marriage of priests, bishops, and other clergy, and to make other laws concerning ecclesiastical discipline, and that council or the one to whom it delegates its authority alone may dispense with these laws.
  37. It is always permitted to appeal to the "legislator" from a coercive decision rendered by a bishop or priest with the authorization of the "legislator."
  38. Those who are pledged to observe complete poverty may not have in their possession any immovable property, unless it be with the fixed intention of selling it as soon as possible and giving the money to the poor; they may not have such rights in either movable or immovable property as would enable them, for example, to recover them by a coercive decision from any person who should take or try to take them away.
  39. The people as a community and as individuals, according to their several means, are required by divine law support the bishops and other clergy authorized by the gospel, so that they may have food and clothing and the other necessaries of life; but the people are not required to pay tithes or other taxes beyond the amount necessary for such support.
  40. The Christian "legislator" or the one who rules by its authority has the right to compel bishops and other clergy ho live in the province under its control and whom it supplies with the necessities of life, to perform divine services and administer the sacrament.
  41. The bishop of Rome and any other ecclesiastical or spiritual minister may be advanced to a "separable" ecclesiastical office only by the Christian "legislator" or the one who rules by its authority, or by the general council of Christians; and they may be suspended from or deprived of office by the same authority.


from Marsilius of Padua, Defensor Pacis, Part III, ch. ii; in Goldet, Monarchia Sancti Romani Imperii, 11, pp. 309 ff.

trans in Oliver J. Thatcher, and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Medieval History, (New York: Scribners, 1905), pp. 317-324

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Mar 1996
[email protected]

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